Works of art most often reflect what is important to the artist: beliefs, sentiments or ideas.
For local artist Saundra “Sandy” Smith Rubiera, memory became the core of her inspiration. A personal story, a Southern cultural memory, Rubiera’s childhood in Fayetteville, North Carolina, frames the narrative in her mature body of work. Tuesday, Jan. 15, Gallery 208 will host an opening reception for her latest exhibit, “What Touches Us: Works by Sandy Rubiera” from 5:30-7 p.m. at 208 Rowan St.
The beginning of Rubiera’s accomplished artistic career began when she attended East Carolina University as an art student. By the time she left the university, she had completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting with a minor in printmaking.
She married a professional photographer (her son is a professional photographer as well) and they lived in Miami, Florida, for 25 years before she and her family returned to Fayetteville. A former educator, Rubiera has illustrated three published picture books and exhibits nationally, regionally and locally.
Most recently, Rubiera was one of the artists awarded the 2016-2017 Regional Artist Grant. This grant is administered and funded by the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County with support from the North Carolina Arts Council and the counties of Lee, Moore, Richmond, Robertson and Scotland, the city of Fayetteville and Cumberland County.
Although the majority of works in “What Touches Us” are Rubiera’s most recent works in Prismacolor pencils, professional markers and acrylic paints, Gallery 208 will present a range of Rubiera’s work so visitors can see the span of her career, including several multi-colored relief prints she made while studying at ECU.
After seeing the early work, visitors to the exhibit will readily recognize that Rubiera’s identity as an artist and what she values was present even when she was a young art student. Her early work evoked a sense of joy and celebrated simple pleasures. The early relief images are figurative and revel in the love between women and children.
Experiences of joy, beauty and simple pleasures are central to Rubiera’s content. Her approach to composition and pictorial perspective was forever altered when, as a student, she climbed a ladder to change a light bulb and viewed her surroundings from above. All of her mature body of work combines a birds-eye viewpoint with bright colors, patterns and a flattened space.
Rubiera is clear about her approach to imagemaking: “I have spent my life studying, teaching and making art. What inspired me to pick up a pencil, brush or pen and make marks on paper or canvas is the same now as when I first started out as an artist: color, pattern and flattened space.
“Although I draw from life, I make a conscious effort to flatten the space in the picture plane by tilting it toward the viewer and altering the perspective. The objects looked stacked, one on top of the other, vertically, rather than one behind the other, horizontally.
“For me, color needs to be intense and as bright as I can make it to be exciting, like opening a new box of crayons on the first day of school. My work is flat and decorative. I love patterns, texture and making marks on a surface. I like the movement they create in a drawing or painting and the way they activate the surface by breaking large shapes into smaller colored areas.”
Memories, the core of Rubiera’s mature work, take the form of sensations, objects and emotions. Unlike in her early work, the figure is replaced with the still life as a subject. Embedded in the still life are memories — like being a small child at her grandmother’s house.
“There is an element of storytelling in my work,” Rubiera said. “The objects I draw and paint are objects I touch or use every day — objects perhaps unimportant to others, but which have meaning for me beyond my finding them interesting or beautiful. These objects evoke stories from my own memories or sometimes stories I make up about them.
“I find these stories funny or whimsical, sometimes sad, sometimes silly. We all struggle, I think, daily, with horrors in the news and difficulties in our own lives. In my drawings, there is no cruelty or violence, no war or hunger or pain. I am aware that this is not the real world, but I want the viewer to forget all that if only for a moment.”
When reflecting on Rubiera’s body of work, I think about the greater meaning successful works of art can have for all of us who view it. While memory sensations have had a direct influence on the work, has Rubiera given voice to a varied and changing cultural landscape of identities and values? Rubiera is presenting her personal reflections and experiences. As an artist, has she left out enough information for us to construct our own meaning?
Positive answers to the above questions relate to the success of Rubiera’s work. Although the image is crowded with objects, Rubiera’s formal choices leave us, the viewers, with enough room to complete the work with our own curiosity. If we let go of preconceived ideas about what a work of art should be, we can rethink the familiar.
Works of art can express feelings and emotions in ways that speech does not. Rubiera successfully stimulates a type of joy that anyone, of any age, can appreciate.
Overall, art reflects what it is to be human, and the cultural dialogue in art is many things. Rubiera brings to the table an important perspective: beauty and joy are still important to our wellbeing. Having knowledge of Rubiera’s career path as an artist, it is easy to see she is a creative role model who can inspire many people of all ages to enjoy art or become artists.
Locally, Rubiera’s work is carried by Lisa’s Picture Framing in the Haymount area of Fayetteville. She also has a website: www.saundrasmithrubiera.com.
The public is invited to attend the Jan. 15 reception of “What Touches Us: Works by Sandy Rubiera,” from 5:30-7 p.m. at Gallery 208, located at 208 Rowen St. The exhibit will remain in the gallery until mid-March. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday. For more information, call 910-484-6200.